As a veterinarian, every day I see sick patients that have already been diagnosed by Dr. Google with a myriad of conditions. Some appear reasonable; others, however, are way out in left field. There was a time when I would dread the words “So I saw on the internet that Fluffy could have [Fill in the blank]”. My attitude has evolved, however, to where I now relish the opportunity to educate and have an open discussion about that particular patient’s condition. Moreover, as my clients have become better educated on various topics, I find the discourse between us more engaging and firmly believe this results in better care for my patients.
I think it is important, however, to keep some things in mind when searching the web for medical information. Here are some tips to keep in mind when searching the web for veterinary medical advice.
1. Ensure the advice is from a knowledgeable source. Articles written by licensed veterinarians are the ideal source. These are often supported by good science and are peer reviewed. Veterinarians are bound to uphold professional standards and rarely disparage other veterinarians or sources of information. Moreover, spreading of misinformation can put their license at risk.
2. Check multiple sources. Cross checking multiple quality sources will validate any information you may gather. This attenuates the risk of falling to a lone wolf that may be spreading false information or rumors.
3. Be aware of highly emotional articles or those that are derogatory of veterinarians or other professionals. I’m always quite suspicious of articles that will appeal solely to one’s emotional judgment or is derogatory of veterinary professionals. These articles are not based on sound science or professional standards, and often times end up trying to sell something. See below.
4. Be aware of sales pitches. I was once referred to a web site that was supposedly selling a “very high quality” food. The opening article was a diatribe on how veterinarians are in cahoots with food companies to sell diets that is killing our patients. But then it dovetailed into how much better their food was and you could buy it on their website. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
5. Remember, there is no scrutiny of information available on the web. Articles aren’t screened for their accuracy and validity. It is up to us - as individuals - to validate information available to us. Utilizing a trusted, peer-reviewed source is important in having the most accurate up to date information.
6. Keep your veterinarian in the loop. No one knows your pet like you do. I would argue a close second is your veterinarian. Before you try something, talk to your veterinarian. There may be a particular issue or condition specific to your pet that may prohibit certain medications or treatment alternatives. Keeping the line of communication with your veterinarian open and fluid is paramount to maintaining your pet’s health.
Hopefully these tips help in keeping your pet healthy. I’ll reiterate it again, before you try anything you learned on the web, it is important you speak with your veterinarian. We both (you as the pet owner, me as the veterinarian) want to keep your pet as healthy and long lived as possible.